Book Review: Our Country's Presidents

Ages 9-18

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• With Courage and Cloth

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Keeping up-to-date with last year's election is this wonderful National Geographic book, revised to include a discussion of the latest presidential election. The book does a great job of profiling every president in American history, spending more time on some than on others. The presidents who most historians consider to be the "greatest"—Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt—naturally get the most coverage. Most presidents get just one page, however. Yes, it is a large goal—including every single president; but perhaps a book with 30 or more pages wouldn't have been too much to ask.

That aside, the book includes the usual National Geographic flourishes—fancy graphics and amazingly appropriate photos and paintings. The life of each president (before, in most cases, and after, in some cases, their terms in the highest office in the land) is examined in enough detail to place that man in perspective in what was going on in the country and the world at the time.

Also welcome is an appendix containing vote counts for every presidential election, including the votes cast for every single candidate in every single election. Trivia buffs will love this inclusion.

In this writer's opinion, the best thing about this book is the special sections, interspersed throughout the book, highlighting aspects of the presidency other than the lives of the presidents themselves. Examples include

  • The White House: The Building and Its History
  • The Powers of the President,
  • The Vice Presidents: Leaders Just a Heartbeat Away
  • Presidential Campaigns
  • Political Parties: The Two-party System
  • Presidential Landmarks: From Log Cabins to Libraries
  • Kids in the White House
  • Presidents at War
  • The First Ladies
  • Presidents Who Died in Office: The Mysterious Twenty-year curse
  • The Electoral College
  • Election Day: Landslides, Upsets, and Contested Results
  • In the President's Shadow: Security, the Media, and Presidential Perks
  • Former Presidents: Serving as Elder Statesmen

More often than not, these special sections are placed appropriately. For instance, the section titled The White House: The Building and Its History accompanies the short biography of John Adams, who was the first president to serve while living in the White House. The special section titled The First Ladies: Partners, Hostesses, and Advocates is placed next to the biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose wife, Eleanor, is generally considered to be one of the most active and popular First Ladies ever. Lastly, the special section titled Election Day: Landslides, Upsets, and Contested Elections is placed next to the biography of the current presidents.

All in all, this is a great book, one filled with excellent information and large amounts of trivia and "I didn't know that" facts. Definitely pick it up.

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Social Studies for Kids
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David White